How ENGIE Fabricom is making the country’s waterways safer

Belgium’s network of waterways is expanding rapidly. ENGIE Fabricom contributes to this development by offering a range of innovative solutions and systems, primarily to enhance safety on Belgian rivers and canals and in the North Sea.

ENGIE Fabricom Drawbridges in Port of Antwerp jbc sli
The Port of Antwerp

Specialists from ENGIE Fabricom’s Marine Technics section are dedicated to improving the electric, electronic and electromechanical mechanisms of bridges, locks and dams built on rivers in the northern part of the country. They focus on engineering and project management aspects of the development, monitoring and remote control of these waterways.

Intelligent detection

For ENGIE Fabricom, the digitalisation process is continuing at every level, a first example being the vessel traffic monitoring system (VTMS) that lists all movements made by vessels. “It’s an intelligent system based on radar sensors that detects and tracks ships from the shore”, explains ENGIE Fabricom Section Manager Alain Goddyn. “We’re responsible for this system for the next seven years. And Waterwegen en Zeekanaal plc (W&Z) has asked us to extend its use throughout all of Flanders.”

Ideal courses

The Marine Technics section deploys other digital solutions, too, like the automatic identification system (AIS), which issues a kind of ‘electronic passport’ to each vessel. These AIS beacons, installed on board by ENGIE Fabricom, transmit continuous data that enable port authorities, lock keepers or ship-owners to locate vessels to ensure that traffic flows smoothly and to optimise the routes taken.

“And naturally to ensure safety”, Alain Goddyn continues. “Imagine a laden LNG carrier being piloted in the port of Zeebrugge. This is a delicate moment when access to the port is temporarily closed, to avoid any unnecessary risks, so our light signals and AIS beacons play a key role.”

A final aspect of security concerns ‘ideal courses’. The inertia of large vessels means their movements have to be anticipated well in advance. Light signals placed on the banks of waterways tell them the ideal course to steer. Just recently, ENGIE Fabricom installed such beacons in the Port of Antwerp’s Deurganck Dock, this being but one example.

Both on the coast and out at sea

The ENGIE Fabricom team has also been active on the coast for many years and has earnt a solid reputation for its work on hydro-meteorological projects. “We supply and install systems that measure waves, currents and water temperature and also detect lightning. Specifically, seven probes have been installed in the sea, just off the coast. They belong to the Flemish authorities, but ENGIE Fabricom keeps them fully maintained. These sensors also play a key role in steering, because it’s on the basis of weather conditions (fog, wave height, etc.) that the port authorities do or do not allow vessels to be piloted.”

Furthermore, ENGIE Fabricom plays an important role in coastal ‘weather parks’, which provide other meteorological measurements. Planted in the dunes, they provide so-called ‘dry’ data, such as wind speed and humidity. Again, ENGIE Fabricom is responsible for installing and maintaining these systems and for transmitting the data they gather.

However, ENGIE Fabricom’s activities extend far beyond river and coastal navigation. Here’s an example. The wind farm substations on ENGIE Fabricom’s Hoboken site, constructed in the North Sea, are also equipped with hydrometeorological measuring equipment and AIS beacons to prevent fishing boats from venturing too close to these structures.

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